A roundup of industry expertise, exclusive resources, business support and tools for your design business.
Read more >>
There was much, much more covered in the hour – you really had to be there. Do make sure you join us in our next DBA Members’ Forum on Monday 4 December at 4pm GMT, look out for an email from me in a few weeks with more details. If you would like to attend, get in touch here.
JK: “I was at a stage in my business where I wanted to grow it, but I needed to grow myself first. Having just come from working as a designer in an agency, to running my own with a small team, I had no previous leadership experience so wanted to build on this so I could lead and mentor my own team, and push the business forward with conviction and confidence. I believed that Twenty/Twenty was what I needed. The programme was also recommended to me by several professional connections.”
JK: “My mentor was Studio Phoenix’s co-founder, Jonny Westcar and he was a very good match. We connected on both a professional and personal level. He had been through similar experiences in the past so was able to relate easily to my challenges. We met in person for most of the sessions, either in London (near him) or Edinburgh (near me), and he mentioned that he also got a lot of benefits from the sessions too.”
JK: “Everything I listed at the start that I wanted to achieve and gain clarity on, has been answered. Also the matching process itself has exceeded my expectations. Working with Jonny, specifically, has been a real pleasure and I look forward to every session. I don’t think you could have picked a better match for my needs and personality.”
JK: “I have benefitted from it hugely, because I set out to achieve certain things and gain clarity, understanding and confidence in my path and vision, and it has also been beneficial for someone to relate to my specific rollercoaster and therefore use as a sounding board.
My business has benefitted because I have benefitted, and a lot of the clarity in leadership and vision has passed to my team in a positive way.
As a business owner with vision, goals and struggles, the value of being able to learn from, and bounce ideas off someone who has already walked a similar path can only be beneficial.”
JK: “Investing in yourself is one of the most effective things you can do. Be organised and have a clear agenda with incremental goals, then open yourself up to the honesty, guidance, support and industry specific knowledge of the mentors. I will definitely be taking part in Twenty/Twenty mentoring again at some stage.”
Being part of a mentoring relationship can be transformational. There’s no other programme like the DBA’s Twenty/Twenty mentoring out there and there’s nothing to stop anyone from benefiting from this ground-breaking process. You just have to start. Find out more and apply by Wednesday 29 November.
Augusto Lopes | Unsplash
The DBA’s Twenty/Twenty business mentoring programme has been running since 2011 and has created a community of hundreds of DBA members who have used the process to make more informed decisions about their businesses, their people and themselves.
DBA mentors are the leading lights of design leadership. People who have faced the highs and lows of working in our industry and recognise the specific challenges faced by mentees, yet are further along in the journey and can offer that crucial perspective needed for growth. Together with them, mentees work through a 12-month process of developmental mentoring providing the supported time and space needed for true change to happen.
Our resources and training sessions are developed and led by some of Europe’s most experienced and respected mentoring experts, and the cohort approach to the programme means that you benefit from the shared experiences of your fellow mentees as you travel through the process.
Everyone on the programme – both mentors and mentees – are equipped with the specific skills and techniques needed to create successful mentoring conversations. Our guided, yet light-touch framework gives you the support you need to establish a strong relationship, and then gives you the freedom to define together how your individual experience will work. Will you meet online or in person? Will you stick to the most usual format of meeting for an hour each month, or will you meet more regularly? Will the time between sessions be bridged with active work to bring back to the next meeting, or will your sessions be more focussed on the simple experience of that protected time for reflection and trusting the growth that comes from that? It’s all up to you.
And you can tackle whatever subjects and issues you want to with your mentor. This is a completely tailored experience – you are matched with a mentor whose background, personality, situation and aspirations resonate with your own. They are simply further down the line and with more battle scars under their belt. But whatever you’re bringing to the table to work on – be that specific business conundrums, personal development goals or a need to tackle the next big leap for you or your business – the quality of our careful and rigorous matching process means you’ll have the right mentor for your journey. The longevity of our programme is down to the good mentor/mentee matches we make.
What if you don’t know what you want to work on with your mentor, but the process sounds right for you, right now? Well, that’s great too and not an unusual starting point. You’ll work with your mentor to identify your goals early on in the year, and then shape them as you go. Who knows what you and your mentor might uncover together and where you’ll be in 12 months time.
There’s no other programme like the DBA’s Twenty/Twenty mentoring out there and there’s nothing to stop anyone from benefiting from this ground-breaking process. You just have to start.
“Since launching Twenty/Twenty all the way back in 2011, it’s been incredibly rewarding seeing the passion and commitment of the mentors who give their time to this process, and the impact and influence the programme has on the businesses and lives of the mentees. Mentoring is all about empowering and developing yourself and those around you, building confidence in your leadership abilities and resilience for the road ahead. It’s a privilege to be able to work with so many of the leading lights of the industry each year in this way and we’re excited to welcome more for next year.” Sally Lukins, Strategy & Business Director, DBA
“Twenty/Twenty mentoring helped grow my confidence tenfold. I received robust, solid advice from my mentor and found it invaluable how he shared his experiences. He didn’t tell me ‘what to do’ but provided an open forum to discuss potential scenarios and solutions. I have now got better boundaries around valuing what we deliver with confidence, and I am stronger at negotiating and saying no.”
“My mentor has been a perfect match for me both professionally and personally.”
“Twenty/Twenty is unquestionably valuable and eye-opening. Speaking to someone with deep expertise and experience, who has been through it all, provides incredible context. The impartial, non-judgemental optics of the mentor/mentee relationship offers a unique lens on thoughts, ideas and challenges. You simply can’t have these conversations with colleagues.”
The 2023 DBA Annual Survey Report has found that agencies’ biggest concern in the immediate, near and long-term is the new business pipeline.
“I believe we have a perfect storm of change affecting businesses at this time” says Lucy Mann. ”Post-Brexit, post-Covid, increased economic and political uncertainty not to mention the whirling spectre of emerging tech means that both clients and agencies are feeling the pressure. For many agencies, previously reliable revenue is proving less so and decision making has become far more protracted with new clients.”
Lucy’s advice: “New Business” is a particularly unhelpful term at times like this. Instead let’s think about how we can win and grow the right kind of new relationships. We need to understand the pressures clients are dealing with and the problems they need to solve and demonstrate clearly how we help. We must ask more questions, do more research, be curious and interested. Sustainable new business means a focus on starting conversations rather than simply looking for projects.”
For around a quarter of agencies, balancing increased costs with pressure from clients on fees is a key concern in the short, medium and long-term.
Agencies are increasingly needing to have difficult conversations around value and rates whilst juggling a concern around reduction in client budgets overall.
“It’s always been important for agencies to champion the value they bring but perhaps it’s becoming more crucial,” says Adrian Day. “Artificial intelligence, online on-demand design services, lower barriers to entry and cross-border competition all mandate that you promote the unique value you bring.”
When it comes to navigating conversations with clients around fees, Adrian advises:
Gross fee income and income per head have both increased on last year amongst the Survey’s repeat responders. However, the report highlights that in the context of inflationary rates, such increases don’t represent real growth.
Sim Thirunesan cautions that effective cash flow management will be key. “If cost base increases and revenue growth rate don’t match, there will be a squeeze on cashflow,” she says. “Incurring debt will also cost more, therefore agencies need to be aggressive in contract negotiation and cost management.”
Inflation should be factored into forecasts to ensure real growth targets are put into place.
“Inflation can be added to the desired revenue growth when budgeting, but serious consideration must be given to the reality of price increases and thought must be given to price sensitivity versus perceived value,” says Sim. “An effective pricing strategy which regularly reviews pricing is an important discipline within the agency.”
Sim recommends that in line with forecasting revenue growth, you should review the prior year’s profit margin and determine the desired increase. “This is a key KPI to set and measure your agency’s performance,” she says. “Suppliers and your staff will also be looking for increases, so careful management is required, and a variety of strategies can be employed to ensure a successful outcome.”
The number of agencies engaging workers on a freelance basis has increased by 9% in a year. While freelancers as a percentage of workforce has almost doubled from 6.6% in 2020 to 12.5% in 2023.
Says Aliya Vigor-Robertson, “Freelancers offer great flexibility for businesses, especially for design businesses whose client/project work comes in ebbs and flows. It also allows businesses to dip into specialisms that they may not have in-house or may not require 100% of the time, which in turn could be more cost effective.”
When using freelancers Aliya recommends agencies should:
“IR35 is still a very important consideration for design businesses engaging with freelancers,” says Aliya. “Businesses should consider whether the small business exemption applies to them (and continues to, if they see growth). If not, they are responsible for determining the freelancer’s IR35 status. We would recommend that businesses review any new freelancers to identify whether they fall inside or outside of IR35,” Aliya adds. “There are handy checklists available online to support (like this one), or speak to a specialist.”
The industry standard is to offer one-month payment terms, and this has increased from 54% of respondents in 2021 to 80% in 2023. But, payment terms are not always accepted by clients – only 3.6% of agencies always get clients to accept their terms rather than having the clients’ terms imposed on them.
Chris Lang highlights that the main thing to consider before accepting a client’s longer payment terms “is the availability of enough cash to get through until money is received from the client.”
“If in any doubt,” he says, “consider exploring funding options as early as possible. If extra funding is needed ensure you are making sufficient profit from the work to make up for the cost of any borrowings. The earlier this is explored the easier, and likely cheaper, any borrowings will be.”
A scenario where longer payment terms may be acceptable is when it is for a fee retainer (i.e. no external costs.) “The caveat being that there is enough working capital in the company to allow this,” says Chris. “Longer payment terms should definitely be avoided if buying in costs to be recharged to the client, for which payment is needed prior to being paid by the client.”
The DBA Annual Survey Report is an invaluable members-only business tool which enables you to benchmark your financial performance with your peers. Released each October it covers fees, salaries, utilisation, income, recovery rates, benefits and trends within DBA member companies. Data is segmented by geography and size of agency to make comparisons more relevant. Find out how members use the Report and how to access a copy.
DBA members can also login and watch a recording of the 2023 DBA Annual Survey Report launch webinar, featuring Esther Carder, Partner at Moore Kingston Smith presenting a detailed analysis of the benchmarking data and trends.
Adrian Day: As a Non-Executive Director, Adrian can help your business perform better by acting as your experienced, objective and supportive ‘critical friend’.
Aliya Vigor-Robertson: Aliya and her business partner Sue run an HR Consultancy called JourneyHR. They have a brilliant team of creative industry HR specialists who work with a large community of award winning clients helping them attract and retain their talent.
Chris Lang: Chris and his team have worked with many companies over the years to help improve their financial performance, not only by processing day to day data but also improving processes and commercial awareness throughout the comany. This approach ensures high quality information and therefore better decision making at the top level.
Lucy Mann: Lucy helps agencies optimise their new business performance. Drawing on 30 years’ new business experience, Lucy works with agencies to create workable new business and marketing strategies and plans, mentors in house new business teams and helps client service teams build deeper, more profitable relationships.
Sim Thirunesan: Sim provides dynamic financial insight and strategic business management support to creative professionals, allowing them to focus on excelling at what they do best. By providing clear insight, she can help you make the best decisions for your business and enable you to plan effectively, freeing up your time to focus on unlocking your maximum potential and produce the best work for your clients.
DBA Experts are here to help you navigate the challenges and decisions you face as you grow your business. Our register of accredited expert consultants have sustained and relevant experience in supporting the design industry, so you can rest assured that you will be getting sound, high-level support.
Our Experts have extensive experience supporting the creative industries and are: